‘They’d simply assumed they wouldn’t be able to use new technology’

Blind and partially sighted people should be helped to make better use of technology as part of a national drive to fight against digital exclusion, a Scottish sight loss charity has said.

Get Online week is hosting thousands of events across the UK next week with RNIB Scotland doing its bit to raise awareness of accessibility features now built-in to computers and devices as standard.

Features to help people with sight loss

The charity says too many people with sight loss are not aware of functions to increase text size, or audio tools which it regularly demonstrates through its Online Today project.

It helped one woman in her 70s, who was left partially sighted following a stroke, to get online on her iPad after attending a session at Airdrie library.

“They explained things like how to increase the magnification of what was on the screen very well,” said Mary Dunion, 74, from Glenboig in North Lanarkshire.

“I can access email on my own now, which has really helped my self-confidence and allows me to stay in closer touch with friends.”

RNIB sessions help avoid digital exclusion

RNIB’s Online Today team organises group and one-to-one sessions throughout Scotland where people who are blind and partially sighted can be talked through the basics of how devices can be configured to maximise their accessibility.

“New technology has become absolutely embedded into modern life,” says Sheila Sneddon, manager of the charity’s Online Today project. “Travel, shopping, banking, communication are going – or have even totally gone – digital.

“But if you can’t go online, more and more activities and services, and more bargains and special offers, will be out of your reach. Even basic necessities like applying for welfare benefits and receiving healthcare appointments are now increasingly done online.

Positive feedback

“You might think all this would place blind and partially sighted people at an even greater disadvantage. But actually many of today’s devices are now far easier for someone with a visual impairment to use.

“You can enlarge and change the type of font used in the text, change the background colour for better contrast, and use software that reads texts to you through an earphone. Many of the people we introduce these basic features to at our Online Today sessions never even knew they were there. They’d simply assumed they wouldn’t be able to use new technology.”

The RNIB Scotland sessions are informal and not aimed at people who have an interest in tech; they also recognise that many people with sight loss are older and perhaps less familiar with going online.

“So we demonstrate the relevant features of whatever device they have in easy to understand, non-jargon language. And the feedback we have received from clients is very positive,” adds Sneddon.

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